ISTANBUL, November 26 (Compass Direct News) – Thousands of Muslim protestors on Sunday (Nov. 23) attacked a Coptic church in a suburb of Cairo, Egypt, burning part of it, a nearby shop and two cars and leaving five people injured. Objecting to a newly constructed extension to the church of St. Mary and Anba Abraam in Ain Shams, the huge crowd of angry protestors gathered outside the church at around 5 p.m. following a consecration service for the addition earlier that day.
Chanting, “We will demolish the church,” “Islam is the solution” and “No God but Allah,” rioters pelted the church with stones and burned part of the structure; priests and worshipers were trapped inside, and five people were injured.
“It was a terrifying moment,” said lawyer Nabil Gobrayel, who was inside the church at the time. “They were shouting ‘holy slogans’ like, ‘We will bring the church down,’ ‘The priest is dead’ and ‘The army of Muhammad is coming.’”
Police slow to arrive were not prepared for the scale of the protest. Angry Muslims swarmed to the area from a two-kilometer radius, and although estimates varied, some suggested as many as 8,000 people gathered.
Rioters’ stones broke the structure’s windows, and a nearby shop and two cars belonging to Christians were set on fire.
Reinforcements for the overwhelmed security forces did not arrive until two hours later and were then engaged in clashes with the mob until the early hours of Monday (Nov. 24) morning.
Armored vehicles brought in riot police, who used tear gas to disperse the crowd while fire services aided their efforts with water cannons.
A United Copts of Great Britain statement suggested that police were slow to arrest perpetrators in the early stages of the demonstration but did eventually detain 41 people around midnight.
Of the 38 Muslims arrested, 30 were quickly released “under the pretext of being minors,” according to the United Copts statement. Three arrested Christians, however, remained in prison without charges.
United Copts also reported that Wael Tahoon, a police officer, was said to be involved in instigating the attacks.
A source told Compass that Pope Shenouda, head of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, ordered that prayers at the church site be stopped.
According to Gobrayel, the church will be closed for two months while officials consider its future.